Japan win thrilling World Cup Final against USA on penalties.
Ayumi Kaihori was Japan’s heroine in their World Cup final win over USA with two saves in the game’s deciding penalty shootout.
A 1-1 draw was followed by a goal apiece the extra time before the underdogs sealed their first ever World Cup final triumph in the most tense of endings.
USA settled into their pre-match billing as favourites and dominated the opening exchanges, with three efforts in the opening ten minutes that looked likely to set the tone for an America victory.
Shinobu Ohno, however, registered Japan’s first attempt at goal on 22 minutes, after some neat build-up play, in the first indication that the game might not be the one-sided affair the history books suggested.
Abby Wambach, in search of her fourth goal of the finals, went close on the brink of the half-hour mark with a left-footed strike from range that rattled Japan’s crossbar.
The second half started with Japan continuing with their cautious game plan, getting bodies beyond the ball and frustrating the USA attack.
The US almost broke the deadlock on 59 minutes when half-time substitute Alex Morgan struck the post following an enticing cross from Heather O’Reilly.
Morgan had found her rhythm, however, and on 69 minutes the 22-year-old opened the scoring with a fine individual effort.
Much to their detriment, USA took their foot off the gas and allowed Japan more possession in the centre of the pitch and they were punished with just nine minutes of normal time remaining. Karina Miyama reacted first to some poor USA defending and fired home.
Neither side could find the resources to win the game in 90 minutes but America took the lead again on 104 minutes with Wambach’s fourth headed goal of the tournament following another cultured Morgan cross.
The game looked set to end with America raising the trophy again, and denying Japan of their first win in this fixture in 26 attempts. But Homare Sawa took her duty as captain to the Nth degree and guided home an inch-perfect corner, with penalties just three minutes away, to become the tournament’s leading scorer with five.
The final seconds of extra time were frantic before referee Bibiana Steinhaus called time on the added half hour, setting up the theatrical finish.
Kaihori kept out two USA spot kicks before Saki Kumagai stepped up to win the World Cup for Japan for the first time.